By Anya Tikka
Editor's note: We have removed a paragraph from the following story. It dealt with Helene Rothstein, who spoke publicly, and whose comment was not accurately reported in the article.
LIBERTY Tensions flared in Liberty over conflicting views regarding a proposed new metal recycling business on a property marked as residential.
During Monday’s Zoning Board Public Hearing, residents and officials on both sides of the issue gave at times heated testimony over the property, located next to Exit 99 on Route 17.
At the end of the meeting, the board approved to correct the map because it said it was marked as residential in error, allowing the metal scrapyard to make use of four of the six rezoned parcels. Board members claimed the site earmarked for the plant is an IC, or industrial/commercial zone, and the maps are erroneous and they are simply “correcting a mapping error.”
Ben Weitsman & Son of Oswego bought Liberty Scrap Metal from longtime owner Gary Zalkin in September 2010 and wants to relocate the junkyard from Fishman Road to Sheehan Road in Liberty.
Residents whose properties are nearby insisted there was no mapping error, but that the zoning is the result of the Comprehensive Town Plan of 2007, that shows it as R1, or residential, and that the error suddenly surfaced when Zalkin approached the town for a permit to transfer his license to Weitsman for the metal crushing plant.
Jonathan Hyman of the Public Forum Group in Smallwood, who had been hired by Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, one of the residents, to research the issue, presented a set of three maps. They spanned from the time of the adoption of the Comprehensive Town Plan in 2007 to the proposed zoning map from June 2010, and to the adapted zoning map from March 2011. Each of the maps shows the same area in question marked as R1.
The board’s decision drew both support and condemnation, with some claiming it was a display of favoritism.
Dan Ritter, a lifelong Liberty resident, spoke about the need for jobs the plant was proposing to bring into the town some 10 new ones, with the promise of more in the future. He spoke heatedly about how when any business wanted to come to the area, it was always stopped.
But some businesspeople already in the area spoke against the plant, saying it would hurt their business. Leopoldine Jafri, the owner of the Catskills Motel, was worried over the visual and health impact on her business.
Camillo Riili of Liberty added that maybe the jobs the plant would bring to the town were similar to fracking, in that short term there would be benefits, but the long term impacts had not been duly considered.
Michelle Holloway, who lives near the site, had come to the hearing with her teenage daughter, said, “I’m opposed to it because of the noise, pollution, disturbance to bears, deer and other critters, nature.”
“The town already has an industrial zone, at the other end of the town,” Hyman said in his presentation, asking the town to “welcome Weitsman [‘s relocation] with open arms, but in the appropriate location.
Many of the speakers wanted to make sure it was understood that they were not against development, but wanted to have it in the designated zone. Or, if the town insisted on re-zoning, to bring in light commercial businesses to the area in question, that would enhance and attract the area for residents and visitors alike, such as restaurants, hotels, and shops, going with the original comprehensive plan vision.
The final testimony came from Dr. Cohen’s attorney Robert Graubard of Greenwald Law Offices in Chester who said, “You have the right to change the zoning, but you cannot just push it through as an error, there are procedures and laws as to how to go about it.”
He continued, “This has to be done as a zoning amendment, with an Environmental Impact Statement.”
Referring to Hyman’s research, he said there was not any indication of the zone in question being anything but R1 from the time of the comprehensive plan up to the zoning approval.
Graubard continued that Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon of Sullivan County Department of Planning and Environmental Management had sent a letter to the board on December 15, which stated “The County recommends that the local law be written as a zoning change and not as a correction,” which required a different set of rules and procedures.
Graubard said the board was making the zoning change illegally.